The 2020 NHL draft will certainly be different. Team scouts didn’t have a full season of evaluation, and there won’t be a combine. Player interviews will be done over video chats. And we still don’t even know exactly when the draft will be held.
But this much we do know: The top of the class is as exciting as ever, though there might be less consensus than usual further down the line, especially after the first 15 or so prospects. Then opinions vary greatly among team scouts and draft evaluators. There should be some midround gems in this class, but the gap between the players in the top tier and the next group seems a bit more severe than in years not affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
We might not know when the draft is going to happen, but we know it’s going to happen. So let’s dive in on the intriguing 2020 NHL draft class.
Note: Heights and weights are from Central Scouting. Age is as of May 13.
1. Alexis Lafreniere, LW, Rimouski (QMJHL)
Age: 18 | Ht: 6-foot-1 | Wt: 193 | Shot: L
There is no debate at this point as to who should go No. 1. It’s Lafreniere by a significant margin. Over the past 20 years, only two players 18 years old or younger had a points-per-game average higher than Lafreniere’s 2.15 this season: Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Drouin. Lafreniere thinks the game at a high level, with elite anticipation and an understanding of what to do with the puck immediately after he gets it.
He has a physical edge and initiates contact more than most top picks of recent years, separating players from the puck with regularity. We’ve seen Lafreniere’s emotions get the better of him at times, but he has a competitive fire. He wants the puck at all times, in all situations. And he has the skill and hands to make things happen when he has it. Few other players exude the level of confidence Lafreniere has shown over the past two seasons.
2. Quinton Byfield, C, Sudbury (OHL)
Age: 17 | Ht: 6-4 | Wt: 215 | Shot: L
Byfield looked like he was seriously going to give Lafreniere a run for his money at No. 1, but his game-to-game consistency wasn’t at the same level. Byfield’s game was a little uneven from midseason on, and I wonder whether the draft season began to wear on him. He is one of the younger players in this draft class but was fifth in the OHL in terms of points per game (1.82). At his best, he is a dominant force with elite-level speed, especially considering his size. He thinks the game extremely well, with good vision and a playmaker’s touch. Byfield’s defensive game needs maturation, but his instincts with the puck are very strong. If everything goes right in his development, he has a chance to be special.
3. Tim Stutzle, LW, Mannheim (Germany)
Age: 18 | Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 187 | Shot: L
There is a sense of ease in Stutzle’s game, a level of poise that is not easily attained for a teenager in his first season of pro hockey. He has high-end puckhandling and skating abilities along with elite vision and hockey sense. He has a nice release and good shot, but I think his hands work best when he’s snapping passes, especially down low. He uses the ice that’s given to him and often makes the play, but he doesn’t force things. Stutzle has a chance to become part of a growing elite class of German hockey players, and he’s done it without ever really leaving home. But he likely will need to get into an AHL lineup to grow and learn the North American game.
4. Lucas Raymond, LW, Frolunda (Sweden)
Age: 18 | Ht: 5-11 | Wt: 170 | Shot: R
Raymond has been one of the hardest players to evaluate in this class because he is too good for Sweden’s junior league but not quite good enough to play an elevated role on a perennial SHL powerhouse laden with veteran talent. He averaged under 10 minutes of ice time in 33 SHL games and was either healthy-scratched or played as the extra forward an awful lot this season. He had 14 points in nine games in Sweden’s under-20 league, as well. His one-on-one skills, skating and willingness to battle for his ice are plus traits.
5. Cole Perfetti, C, Saginaw (OHL)
Age: 18 | Ht: 5-11 | Wt: 177 | Shot: L
He can score, he can make plays and his skill is elite. But what I like best about Perfetti are his vision and offensive sense, giving him the ability to pick apart opposing defenses on the rush or in the zone. He can extend plays and seems to always have a plan with the puck on his stick. Perfetti has a pure release on his shot and snaps passes about as well as anyone else in the class. His skating is closer to average, but that is a much bigger problem for players who can’t think the game the way Perfetti does.
6. Marco Rossi, C, Ottawa (OHL)
Age: 18 | Ht: 5-9 | Wt: 183 | Shot: L